The second episode of the Miss Marple Mysteries aired on Sunday, July 12th on Masterpiece Mystery with Murder is Easy. The new Miss Marple Julia McKenzie continues to improve in her interpretation of Agatha Christie’s amateur detective who may look like a harmless and kindly elderly lady, but is as sharp as her knitting needles.
Miss Marple (Julia McKenzie) meets a stranger on a train who claims “murder is easy.” The doddering Miss Pinkerton (Sylvia Syms) is on her way to Scotland Yard to report two suspicious deaths in her village and shares some scattered facts with Miss Marple during their short journey. When Miss Marple reads in the paper of her accidental death in the train station on the same day as their meeting, she may be the only person who knows of Miss Pinkerton’s suspicion that the deaths are indeed murders. She travels to the village of Wychwood-under-Ashe to reveal what she knows and discover the truth. The villagers are distressed by the three recent deaths, but do not have a clue that there is a murderer amongst them. When three more deaths happen in quick succession, Miss Marple assists retired policeman Luke Fitzwilliam (Benedict Cumberbatch) and local constable PC Terrence Reed (Russel Tovey) in uncovering a murderer with a dark secret that will shock and scandalize the community.
De rigueur in this stylishly produced series, the costumes, locations and acting were superb. The producers have the knack of selecting an outstanding supporting cast of the best veteran British actors available. One wonders out loud if doing a Miss Marple episode has become the UK equivalent of a guest appearance on the American television show from the 1970’s The Love Boat, but with much more class! I was particularly impressed with Benedict Cumberbatch as the young retired policeman Luke Fitzwilliam. Viewers will recognize him from several quality performances in To The Ends of The Earth (2005), Amazing Grace (2006) and The Other Boleyn Girl (2008). His subtle and pensive characterization of Fitzwilliam had me wondering about the characters back story of his days in Mayang as a policeman, and why this handsome and stoic man was unattached. (subliminal Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy emerging) Anna Chancellor was perfectly cast as Lydia Horton, the ambitious Politian’s wife. Has she been typecast since her portrayal of snarky Caroline Bingley in the miniseries Pride and Prejudice in 1995? Who cares! She plays the snobby social climber so well that she can make a career out of it and never be boring. My favorite performance was by far by Jemma Redgrave (Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park 2007) as Jessie Humbleby the widow of one of the victims on the brink of a mental breakdown. When Miss Marple grimaces after drinking a greenish cocktail that she has politely accepted made by the hand of the babbling Mrs. Humbleby, one can only imagine what she has mistakenly put in it to cause such an uncharacteristic reaction by a woman who is known for not revealing anything!
With six recent murders, and one linked to them from the past, this might be one of Agatha Christie’s most complicated plots. Adaptated from her 1939 novel, it was neatly condensed down by screen writer Stephen Churchett into a fast paced 90 minuets. I found myself intently concentrating on the action, trying not to miss the connecting sphere of the villagers, or any clues to the identity of the murderer. It did however, suffer from being lopt’d and cropt’d with some distinct plot and character changes readers of the novel will definitely notice, but will matter little to viewers who will be wrapped up in discovering whodunit. I am still waiting for Julia McKenzie’s interpretation of Miss Marple to outweigh my fondness for Geraldine McEwan and Joan Hickson’s previous Miss Marple’s. Given time, I hope she will succeed.
Up next in the Six by Agatha series on Masterpiece Mystery on Sunday, July 19th, They Do It With Mirrors.